A Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to pay N17.3bn as damages to a local manufacturer, Beddings Holdings Limited, over the N34.5bn contract the commission awarded in 2010 for the purchase of Direct Data Capturing machines used for the voters’ registration exercise.
The N17.3bn is 50 per cent of the total sum of the contract, which INEC awarded to three firms – Haier Electrical Appliances Corporation Limited, Zinox Technologies Limited and Avante International Technology Incorporated.
The presiding judge, Justice Ibrahim Auta, ordered the payment while delivering judgment in a suit brought by Beddings Holdings Limited against INEC, its chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega; the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, and the three firms which benefited from the N34.5bn DDC machines procurement contract.
Justice Auta held that INEC was aware of the fact that the plaintiff, BHL, had a valid and subsisting patent right over the DDC machines but went ahead to award a contract for the purchase of the equipment without first seeking, and obtaining the permission of the right holder (BHL).
In the suit filed by its lawyer, John Okoriko, BHL had accused INEC and Jega of infringing on its patent right by awarding contracts for the purchase and deployment of the DDC machines for the compilation of the voters register without its consent.
In his judgment, Justice Auta held that the country’s Patent and Design Act outlawed the use of a patented invention without the consent of the patent holder.
The judge stressed that INEC and other agencies of the government, were not above the law. “INEC, like every other government agency has the responsibility of obeying the law of the land.
“INEC as an electoral body should realise that the business of election is important. It touches on the life of the nation. So, INEC should always play by the rules, so that its conduct does not affect the outcome of elections.”
“The defendant (INEC) by the award of contract to other suppliers without getting the permission of the patent rights holder has breached his right.”